This piece is my submission to ArtOrder’s November 2013 Inspiration Challenge. It hasn’t actually been easy to be inspired right now, as this is perhaps the least inspiring time of year here in Sweden. There also hasn’t been much spare time lately for a project like this, so I had to take a lot of short periods of time where I could find them.
I’d been working on this idea on and off since the second Northern Light Workshop, where I’d been trying an acrylic painting of this theme with varied results. Unsatisfied, I invited the gracious Elin Hökby to come back to the studio to help me with poses, and she was interested in the direction of the picture. With her help and support, I came up with enough material that I felt I could get the feeling I was after for the piece – a darker take on the valkyrie inspired by the rune stones I’d seen in Visby on Gotland.
I wanted to try the so-called “Rackham technique” I’d read about on William Stout’s blog (watercolour over warm-toned ink lines), and so I traced out my sketches on Canson Montval watercolour paper. I used a waterproof Faber-Castell sepia brush pen to ink the linework. I was sort of a nervous wreck doing this, but everything worked out. I was admiring the finished line art when I suddenly realised I’d left out a letter in the old norse translation. I sat there in shock for a while, trying to decide how to handle it. I was going to scan the linework before colouring it anyway, just in case, so I scanned it and fixed the mistake in Photoshop.
I printed out the artwork onto new sheets of the same watercolour paper, but somehow it just wasn’t the same anymore, and I was quite depressed about the whole situation. I finally decided to take the pressure off myself and just colour it digitally. I have a set of digital watercolour brushes created by Justin Gerard that I just love, so I felt better directly about this decision. I still want to try a proper test of the Rackham method, but it’ll have to wait until the next piece!
From that point, things went well. Even though I set out on this piece with Arthur Rackham and John Bauer firmly in mind, when I look at the finished work, I see how much I’ve been influenced by Hasui Kawase in the colouring. I can even see Mucha and Moebius in there in places. All of our various inspirations are whispering to us as we work, I suppose.
The text in the framing is a fragment of stanza 54 of Helgakviða Hundingsbana I in old norse, which I hope I’ve managed to translate (and spell!) correctly. It says approximately, “Down from the sky came maidens with shining helms…”. I wanted the overall tone to be a bit ominous, and to include the ravens, who are sometimes associated with valkyrie. Her garb is closer to actual viking styles, and she carries a saga-sized drinking horn!
I wonder what the judges of the challenge will think of it – it’s a powerhouse lineup of famous artists and art directors, so no pressure there. At any rate, I learned so much creating this, and I’m motivated to take things further next time – to have the courage to colour the entire piece with watercolours…